As I write this, I am sitting at my desk inside the fourth-floor office space that I call my home away from home.
I have a window seat with a walk-out patio that gives me a picturesque view of the Norwalk River, along with the cute little downtown-like conclave of buildings that make up South Norwalk, which sits off in the distance.
Having risen up through the ranks of my chosen profession, I carry a title I am proud of — “Managing Sports Editor” — as I oversee the regional coverage for three different newspapers. I have the honor of covering the University of Connecticut sports program as my schedule allows while also being located within an hour of New York City, which, let’s face it, is one of the best sports cities in the world.
And, at this point of my life, I am making the most money I’ve ever made and am living, for the most part, comfortably, in a tiny little apartment located just two blocks up from the Long Island Sound.
I am blessed to be here and when I really think about it I owe it all to one man.
In the fall of my junior year in high school, Pete Warner came into my life inside a press box at Garland Street Field’s Cameron Stadium. I, along with one of my friends, was running the PA system for a John Bapst Memorial High School football game. It was a brain-check job — “So-and-so with the carry, him and him with the tackle” — and if I remember right it didn’t pay a single penny.
Pete was there in his job capacity as a sports writer for the Bangor Daily News, my hometown newspaper. He was covering the game and would write about it for the next day’s newspaper. To be honest, at first I thought Pete was just a statistician or something for the opposing team. I knew he was furiously taking notes, but he was far enough away that there was no reading over his shoulders. Every so often, if I recall, we’d help each out on which So-And-So had the carry and whether it was Him or Him that had the tackle.
At the end of the game, I jokingly called the home team’s Jeff “The Hawk” Higgins as our Chevrolet Player of the Game, and for some reason Pete got a kick out of that.
That following winter I met Pete again at a basketball game and it was there, inside the Bangor Auditorium, that I learned he was a sports writer.
Writing and sports had been two of my life-long passions at that point, and his job intrigued me. I was a regular reader of the Boston Globe by then, as well as the Bangor Daily News.
Hell, truth be told, he seemed to have the perfect job — writing about sports? It’s not like we’re really working for a living.
Later that basketball season one of Pete’s colleagues — Mike Dowd — wrote a story about an Eastern Maine Class B championship game that I had attended. When I read the story the next day, I was blown away. At the start, it read:
“BANGOR — Paul Haggan stood motionless at the top of the key, arms clasped behind his head in disbelief …”
Right then and there, after I was done reading that story, I knew in my heart and soul what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Fast forward another a year and a half.
Pete and I had stayed in touch as I saw him at a plethora of high school sporting events over the rest of my junior and senior years. We always made it a point to say to hello to each other and he knew of my interest in some day becoming a sports writer.
Following my graduation from high school, Pete reached out to me out of the blue.
I had been out playing in a spirited tennis match with one of my best friends, and I had called home to report in and just let my mother know that we were going to run out for some Chinese food and I’d be home later than I expected.
Not that I was that good of a son or anything like that. I was 18 and didn’t have to report in, but on this day I did.
It was perhaps fate throwing me a bone.
“I have a message you,” my mother said. “Pete Warner from the Bangor Daily News is looking for you.”
I had to dig out another quarter to plug into the payphone to call him. It was the best 25 cents I ever spent in my life.
“Want a job?” he asked.
“Boy, do I,” I replied.
And the rest is history.
Thanks to Pete, who got me an interview with his boss, I became a part-time, 20-hour-a-week sports clerk for my hometown newspaper. I was 18 years old and had yet to step foot into a college classroom.
I answered phones, took notes and wrote up phoned-in game reports, and type-set harness racing results and starters.
I was in Heaven.
Three months later, I got my first byline, covering a girls soccer playoff game.
Two and a half years after that, I was hired full time when one of our other staffers left for another job.
Guys like Pete and Mike, Larry Mahoney, Bob Haskell, Dave Barber and Joe McLaughlin, and Pete’s dad, Bill Warner, the BDN’s sports editor, and Bud Leavitt, the paper’s executive sports editor; they all truly took me under their wing and gave me a first-hand, sink-or-swim, up-bringing through the world of sports journalism.
They taught me the right way and when I made a mistake they made sure I learned from it.
The sports desk at the Bangor Daily News always had a family feel to it and I am so grateful that I got my start there, under their leadership.
But, out of all them, it was Pete I was closest to and, if I’m honest, I might say I am forever in his debt for his reaching out to me that summer night nearly three decades ago and giving me the chance to join his profession.
I know a lot of things about Pete Warner. He’s a good husband and a great dad, a good journalist and was truly a good friend to me back in those days. The only bad thing I can say about Pete is that he was a lousy saxophone player — but that is both a private joke and a story best shared over beers amongst friends.
This morning I learned that Pete was named the Maine Sportswriter of the Year for the eighth time in his career. I know the first seven of those awards were all well-deserved, just like this one is.
So congratulations, old friend.
But, even more importantly, thank you for all of this, for allowing to me to pursue a career where nothing is ever the same and where I’m still excited to go to work (most days) and tell the stories that deserved to be told.